State Rep. Garnet Coleman brought up murder in urging colleagues to add acts against transgender Texans to the state’s hate-crimes law. "The facts do not lie," the Houston Democrat said in a May 6, 2015, hearing held by the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.
Coleman, suggesting transgender Americans are more likely to be attacked, went on: "Transgender individuals in the U.S. have a 1-in-12 chance of being murdered. The average person has a 1-in-18,000 chance."
His House Bill 2059 would add "gender identity or expression" to what a judge or jury could consider to declare an action a hate crime.
We asked Coleman to elaborate on his declaration about the chances of a transgender resident, meaning a person whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, being murdered. In a written statement we fielded by email, Coleman said the 1-in-12 figure turned out not to have a factual basis. In preparing his presentation, Coleman said, he drew the 1-in-12 element from Equality Texas, a group that says it advocates for "full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans."
Coleman also told us a 2012 Human Rights Campaign press release no longer posted online publicized the seemingly unsupported 1-in-12 statistic. We shared Coleman’s response with Equality Texas and the Human Rights Campaign, which says it focuses on achieving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Chuck Smith of Equality Texas confirmed it gave Coleman the figure. A campaign spokesman, Adam Talbot, replied by email that he couldn’t find any sign of the group bandying the 1-in-12 formulation.
By phone, Coleman said: "The information is false; it’s not verifiable."
We took our own look.
Chances of a murder
We recognized, for starters, that counting the number of murders across the population isn’t the same as calculating the chances of any member of a subgroup getting murdered. Various factors come into play including where someone lives and works, for instance.
Regardless, Coleman told us the 1-in-18,000 general chances of murder in the United States he mentioned was based on FBI-collected figures for murders in 2000. By email, FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer guided us to an agency chart showing 15,586 murders and nonnegligent homicides in 2000 when the U.S. had 281,421,906 residents, which suggests 1 in 18,056 residents were murdered. According to the most recent compiled data on the chart, in 2013, the 14,196 murders/nonnegligent homicides within the U.S. population of 316,128,839 residents suggests there was one person murdered for every 22,269 residents.
Fischer pointed us to another FBI chart stating that nationally in 2013, law enforcement agencies tallied 5,928 hate-crime incidents with 1,233 incidents traced to bias against the victim’s sexual orientation. Some 277 incidents were categorized as anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-bisexaul, or anti-transgender, the chart says. Separately, of 31 gender-identity hate crimes, according to the chart, 23 were anti-transgender and 8 were anti-gender-nonconforming (referring to a person who does not conform to the gender-based expectations of society as in a woman dressed in traditionally male clothing or a man wearing makeup).
According to another FBI chart, none of the tallied 2013 victims of anti-transgender or anti-gender-nonconforming bias hate crimes were murdered.
More recently, a March 2015 web post by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition said that between January 2015 and March 10, 2015, at least seven transgender women were murdered in the U.S--after 13 transgender women were murdered in 2014.
Smith from Equality Texas suggested by email that the 1-in-12 statistic originated in a master’s degree thesis written in the 1990s by a Californian, Kay Brown, who gave a course on transgender history based on her thesis, it appeared. However, neither Smith nor we could find a copy nor did we confirm any of these details. Next, some 11 months after we published this fact check, we heard by email from Brown, who said she once reached a "back-of-the-envelope" estimate on the chances of an androphilic (exclusively attracted to men) male-to-female transexual person being murdered. Brown said that result, which was not in a master’s thesis, evidently morphed elsewhere into a transgender murder rate. Brown also brought to our attention her August 2013 blog post on the topic.
Separately, none of several online posts pointed out by Smith identified a factual basis for the 1-in-12. Notably, a May 2012 blog post by Christina Stephens of Missouri described her failed attempts to find a substantive basis.
Stephens and others writing online speculated the statistic was referring to lifetime chances of being murdered with writer Parker Marie Molloy concluding in November 2013 that if estimates of the share of U.S. residents who are transgender are accurate, it’s not numerically reasonable for the 1-in-12 figure to hold up.
A 2009 web post by the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which calls itself the "nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people," said that no agencies tally transgender residents and many aren’t public about their identities, but the center estimates that up to 1 percent of the population is transsexual. Even if one presumes the 1-in 12 statistic reflects the lifetime chances of getting murdered, Molloy called it "extremely unlikely" to be correct. "Far too many trans people find themselves the victims of anti-transgender violence," Molloy concluded, "but luckily for us, it’s not 1 out of every 12 of us."
Thinking others might have sorted this out, we turned to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs whose latest report on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected hate violence, published in May 2014, covered U.S. conditions the year before. The report was based on public data and information provided by 14 member-groups including the Montrose Center in Houston, which means incidents were undercounted, the authors wrote.
Overall, the report said, anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected homicides in 2013 were down 28 percent from the year before, totaling 18 compared with 25 in 2012. But for the third year in a row, the report said, "transgender, transgender people of color, and LGBTQ and HIV-affected people of color experienced disproportionately severe violence." Thirteen of the 2013 victims were transgender women, the report said.
The report also said: "Unfortunately, data on the prevalence of hate violence against queer, bisexual, transgender and HIV-affected people is virtually non-existent." Also disconcerting, the report said, its 2013 report documented over 600 more survivors and victims of hate violence through 2012 than the FBI had (1,376 survivors and victims compared to 2,001 survivors and victims).
We also reached Vincent Villano, spokesman for the National Center for Transgender Equality. By phone, Villano expressed unfamiliarity with the 1-in-12 figure. "There really isn’t any data available out there," Villano said.
Coleman told colleagues: "Transgender individuals in the U.S. have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered."
We’re not judging here whether transgender individuals are at risk of attack. But we did not find evidence for this figure or even sufficient information to gauge if it was rooted in facts. All told, Coleman's claim was both unsupported and implausible.
Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
UPDATE, 12:30 p.m., April 25, 2016: We revised this article after hearing from Kay Brown. The story now includes her analysis of how a 1-in-12 estimate came to be. These changes did not affect our rating of Coleman's claim.